Press Release

Today, the Michigan State University’s Education Policy Innovation Collaborative (EPIC) released a new report, 2022 Preliminary Read by Grade Three Retention Estimates. 

“Roughly 5,650 Michigan students received reading scores low enough that they could be required to repeat third grade,” according to the news release.

The report notes:

  • 5.8% of the tested population (5.6% of all 3rd-grade students, or 5,628 students) are eligible for retention based on their 3rd-grade ELA M-STEP scores.
  • This is one percentage point higher than in 2020-21 (4.8%). This signifies a substantively large 20 percent increase in the proportion of retention-eligible students.
  • There are substantial disparities in retention eligibility by race and ethnicity. In particular, Black
    3rd-grade students are more likely to be eligible for retention based on their 2021-22 ELA M-STEP scores than their Asian, White, or Hispanic or Latino peers.
  • Black students are 4.5 times as likely to be retention-eligible than are White students. The proportion of tested Black and Hispanic or Latino students eligible for retention increased relative to last year, while the proportion of White students remained the same and the proportion of Asian decreased

The Education Trust-Midwest noted in a statement that decades of research show that promoting strong early reading skills for students is key to improving education. Students who read well by third grade have a better chance to succeed in school, are far more likely to go to college, participate in the job market and even have greater lifetime employment earnings.

Yet Michigan has lacked a strategic, coherent system of implementing best-practices and far too often left it largely to chance for students to get the instruction they needed to become strong early readers, as we reported in 2018.

Our May 2019 report identified that Michigan has one of the least equitable funding formulas in the nation, that our educators lack access to a range of evidence-based professional supports, and that low-income students and students of color are more likely to have inexperienced teachers than students attending schools with higher-income students.

We should learn from leading states to make significant improvements in Michigan.

“While it’s not surprising that so many children have fallen so far behind, we are now seeing the evidence of the impact of the pandemic, especially for underserved students,” said Amber Arellano, executive director of the Education Trust-Midwest. “These results underscore there is so much more we can be doing to support learning recovery.”

According to Katharine Strunk, director of EPIC, and the Clifford Erickson Distinguished Professor of Education Policy in MSU’s College of Education, this provides more evidence that students will need additional support to recover from missed opportunities to learn caused by the pandemic, the news release said.

“More than anything, this shows us that the pandemic has taken a toll on many of Michigan’s students, and more are struggling with literacy in the third grade than were prior to the pandemic,” Strunk said. “Michigan’s schools and students will need increased investments and support to recover academically.”

Arellano said more is needed to ensure students recover from the pandemic and accelerate their learning, especially those who have long been underserved.

“Districts should use their federal COVID relief funding to adopt strategies based on research and what we know works, such as targeted intensive tutoring and expanded learning time,” Arellano said. “Our policymakers should pass bipartisan legislation that addresses one of the most common barriers to reading success: dyslexia. This thoughtful and strategic legislation would provide critical training for educators and support for students so that problems in reading can be addressed at earlier ages. This legislation is a critical opportunity now to place thousands more of our students on a path for success in school and in life.”

This is also a moment to think about how to implement accountability for student outcomes, Arellano said.

“Accountability should include transparency around data that is then used to inform and trigger better practices and more support for a child’s learning and recovery,” she said. “Accountability should fall on the system, not on the backs of students.”